Notes for speech to Americas Conference

Our foreign policy should reflect both our interests and our values.  The debate as to whether what we do in the world should be realistic or idealistic is pretty empty.  We need a practical and principled approach to the world.  We are part of it.  Our prosperity depends on it.  Our security is only as strong as global war and peace will allow.  Our planet is faced with the global challenge of climate change.

Our engagement with the Americas is part and parcel of our over-all commitment.

Mr Dion has made a point of insisting that the three pillars of our public policy are prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability.  The pursuit of a richer, fairer, and greener Canada depends very much on open, free, and fair trade, on a society that is open to global engagement, and to a government that uses its resources intelligently to make sure we’re acting with consistency and imagination.

We are just over thirty million people, an advanced economy with sovereignty over vast lands on the northern half of North America.  Well over half our national income depends on trade outside our borders, most of it with the U.S.
We value freedom, democracy  and the rule of law, for ourselves and for others.

We are a trading nation, whose interests are best served by strong multilateral agreements and the rule of law.  We can’t just swing our weight around – nor can we rely on others’ kindness.  We depend on the wide range of agreements and instruments that connect us so strongly to the rest of the world.

It was the Liberal Party that negotiated Canada’s entry into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the Tories who thought Canada could somehow get preferred and guaranteed access to the U.S. market with the free trade agreement.

Stephen Harper described the recent settlement on softwood as a “win-win”.  It was certainly a win for the U.S.  It was a loss for Canada :  after decades of struggle Canada left a full billion dollars on the table, abandoned its legal case, committed industry to restricting exports, and agreed to pay an additional tariff in the event lumber falls below 350.

This, together with the drop in the US housing market, has very tough times for the industry, for workers, for families.  It also confirms that the U.S. Senate, where less than 20%of the population control over half the seats, will be a central hotbed of protectionism.

NAFTA was sold to Canadians on the basis that free trade would be guaranteed by a binding dispute settlement.  What softwood clearly shows is that this simply isn’t true.  Canada consistently won its case before the bi-national panels.  The U.S. Industry got its way, with the support of the Senate and the connivance of the administration.

Harper’s Tories decided they would rather force the industry to surrender than support them in a tough battle with a powerful competitor

As Liberals we should be free traders as well as smart traders.

This is certainly true when it comes to development – we need to bring punishing duties to an end for exports from third world countries.  We have to end protectionism against countries that want to trade their way to prosperity.

As Jeffrey Sachs has recently written (Ending Poverty, p. 356-357) “the antiglobalization movement leaders have the right moral fervour and ethical viewpoint, but the wrong diagnosis of the deeper problems…too many protesters do not know that it is possible to combine faith in the power of trade and markets with understanding of their limitations as well.  The movement is too pessimistic about the possibilities of capitalism with a human face, in which the remarkable power of trade and investment can be harnessed while acknowledging and addressing limitations through compensatory collective actions”

But this does not mean that Canada should abandon its agriculture and natural resource sectors to a theory.  If the U.S. and Europe persist in extraordinary acts of subsidy to protect their farmers, we can hardly do less.

The trade agenda can’t be separated from the cause of international development. We are by nature multilateral and international in our outlook.  We are in the world and the world is in us.  We have no Manifest Destiny.  We are not an empire, and have no imperial ambitions.

We have to be vigilant in defence of our security, and need the deepest and most efficient co-operation between DFAIT, CIDA, Defence and Immigration.
As a country of immigrants, we are home to the world’s great religious faiths.  We need to do more to ensure that we are all talking to each other, that we do not allow differences to fester, or extremism to grow.

A century that gave us unprecedented violence has now been succeeded by a world of bewildering complexity.  Simplistic thinking has no place in it.  Burke was right – “governing in the name of a theory” is a bad idea.  The avoidance of ideological enthusiasm, doing less harm,  saving more lives, reconciling differences, eliminating the worst poverty, steadily constructing a world order, step by step,  this is the better way of the future.  It should be the Liberal way.  It should be the Canadian way.

Implementing thse goals will require a different approach than currently being employed by the Harper government.  First, greater maturity, less partisanship, and less attention to momentary fads.  Second, a much stronger commitment to a foreign policy in which effective diplomacy, both public and private, is pursued with determination and pride.  More of our diplomats need to be in the field.  We need to increase our support for public and cultural diplomacy.  We have to embrace both soft power and hard power, understanding the roles and limitations of each.

Constructive engagement means talking consistently about human rights, and refusing to get caught up in a selective or partisan approach which ignores our long term interest.

It will require a different domestic architecture – with an end to the splendid isolation of government departments – and a new international architecture as well.  Between the G 8 and the UN we need to bring together the rapidly  industrializing countries like India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico – to ensure progress on climate change, the fight against poverty  progress on freer trade and an end to nuclear proliferation.

It’s time we took foreign policy more seriously, and learned to focus on more than one thing at a time.  a renewed interest in the Americas should not come at the expense of Africa or Asia.  Our deep commitment to stability in Afghanistan and Haiti needs to match military and defence commitments with a heightened and more effective use of diplomacy.

Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.